Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Tales from the new frontier: "Wahala" by Nnedi Okorafor

I’m still reading my way through Life on Mars: Tales from the New Frontier (Viking, April 2011), a new original Young Adult science fiction anthology edited by Jonathan Strahan that's packed with stories from a range of contemporary writers, including Ian McDonald, Ellen Klages, Stephen Baxter, Nancy Kress, Cory Doctorow, Rachel Swirsky, and Kim Stanley Robinson.

The third tale in the anthology is “Wahala,” by award-winning Nigerian-American fantasy and speculative fiction writer Nnedi Okorafor. Set in the Sahara desert in the years after The Great Change ravaged Earth, the story is about a sixteen-year-old, mind-reading, shadow-speaking Nigerian girl named Fisayo, who, in the process of running away from home, witnesses the landing of a shuttle of Mars Earthlings returning from the Red Planet for the first time in two generations. Here are the opening lines:
I wasn't lost. I wanted to cross “The Frying Pan of the World, Where Hell Meets Earth.” I was fighting my way through this part of the Sahara on purpose. I needed to prove to my parents that I could do it. That I, their sixteen-year-old abomination of a daughter, could survive in a place where many people died. My parents believed I was meant to die easily because I shouldn’t have been born in the first place. If I survived, it would prove them wrong.

The sun was going down and the “frying pan” was thankfully cooling. Plantain, my camel, was walking at her usual steady pace. We'd left Jos three days ago and we were still days from our destination. I'd traveled the desert many times...
A deep story that explores racism, slavery, and the concept of alien-ness. "People are people," to paraphrase Fisayo and quote the old Depeche Mode song. Also, the word Wahala means trouble in Igbo.

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